Friday, August 19, 2011

Secret Nonviolence in Mexico

The successes of nonviolence always seem to be closely guarded secrets. Try to get media coverage for good news, where people begin to resolve violent conflicts in nonviolent ways. There just isn't much interest. But get a good brawl going, or a juicy killing, and the streets are full of TV stations from across the globe.

So it's no surprise that the only news we hear out of Mexico is bad news. Headlines are usually about how many murders or kidnappings there were, or how many mass graves were discovered. I honestly didn't expect the regional South Dakota news media to respond to some good news out of Mexico, when they were invited to a couple of presentations in Eastern S.D. recently on the efforts to change a culture of war into a culture of peace.

There's an organization in Monterrey, Mexico, called Mesa de Paz. Sixteen separate NGO's (non-governmental organizations) in the Monterrey area came together to form Mesa de Paz. All were working for nonviolent resolution of conflicts, in the family, community, campus, church, etc. All had experience in nonviolent conflict resolution. But they were all working in their small niche. People were more and more aware of how they needed to work together since the escalating violence in Monterrey was becoming larger than any group could handle. Together they believed they would be better able to evaluate the situation, to make joint decisions, and to choose a focus for some cooperative efforts. So they spent a year together, building trust, analyzing their situation and making plans. Eventually they decided to focus on building a nonviolent movement among the youth.

One thing they decided early on was not to have any committees. We all know what a committee is like. It doesn't do anything much, except meet. Sometimes the committee will talk about how it needs money to do something. So maybe there will be an event to raise money. Then if money is actually raised, it will take several meetings to decide how to spend it. Then it will be time for new officers and deciding whether to repeat the fund raising event.

Mesa de Paz avoided committees. Instead, they chose what they call "gears." These are groups of members based on skills and interests. Gears move. Gears work together to make a larger vehicle move. And this notion has proven useful for nonviolent activists in Monterrey.

The youth organization (there are some "young" old members) is called Uno Uno. The commitment is to create a culture of peace one person at a time. Right now there are about thirty members. It is marvelous in its diversity. They expect their efforts will grow to three hundred and then three thousand and so on, till they have a culture of peace. But let me explain the work of the gears of these thirty young people.

One gear is public education. These activists (at the moment led by two nursing students), publish a two page nonviolent newspaper, with comics, every month. They make 20,000 copies. Twenty members of Uno Uno take 1,000 copies and distribute them in public places, one by one. They don't leave a pile here or there. They put each one in the hands of a live human being.

Another gear is made up of artists, including graffiti artists. The drug gangs do graffiti. The cartels hang things from bridges over the roadways, like bodies. So this gear does it's own graffiti walls, in gang neighborhoods, about alternatives to violence. And they hang banners over the roadways, calling people to think about what they can contribute to a less violent society. When this gear needed paint, they told the members of Uno Uno, and most everyone was able to contribute a can or two. They didn't need a fundraising committee.

A third gear is about rehabilitation. There are no half-way houses in Monterrey. When young persons come out of a juvenile detention center or prison, they go back to the same streets where they got into trouble. There is now a half-way house, with ten beds, and their first resident, 16 years old. This house will soon be full and another house will follow.

A fourth gear is about bringing peace among rival gangs. Most killings in Monterrey are committed by young people against other young people. There are 4.6 murders a day. The last time I was there, six young people were killed in a gang war and their bodies dropped off at their homes in the middle of the night. Kids in the gangs have a life expectancy of three years. It's why one should be outraged at how the U.S. ATF allowed all those automatic weapons to "walk" across the border. Guns for kids to kill kids!

This fourth gear just brought together 400 plus gang members, from rival drug gangs, to one auditorium. Normally they would be on the streets expecting to kill each other. This night though, they were present to sign a peace pledge, with appropriate ceremony followed by dancing. It happened because of the daily, 24/7 efforts of a few former gang members, who know the ropes and who understand that most of these kids want to live, and love, and simply need an alternative and a chance.

There's more to Uno Uno than I have reported. I'm confident there will be much more in the future. It's good news. It's happening in Mexico. Take notice! There are Arab Springs and Mexican summers. It's high time for a Northern Hemisphere fall!

Carl Kline

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